Barista-worthy Steamed Milk : Microfoam for Beginners

There’s no experience more decadent than drinking a well-crafted latte. A good latte merries a perfectly pulled shot of espresso and textured milk. But textured milk is easier said than done. That’s why baristas painstakingly steam your milk to perfection. Properly steamed microfoam isn’t thick and foamy; it’s creamy and velvety, and its sweetness complements the espresso perfectly.

Latte Art

Proper microfoam is essential for latte art. At its core, latte art is an indication of a well-made drink. Both the espresso shot and the milk have to be executed properly, or you won’t get that beautiful latte art. The visual appeal of latte art will keep your customers coming back for more. As a barista, it’s a fun challenge that keeps you on your toes.

A note about foam

There are two main ideologies in the coffee world: Italian-style or “old-school” coffee, and third wave coffee. A lot of people order a cappuccino, expecting to see a thick cloud of foam on top. This is also referred to as a “bone-dry” cappuccino. When they get their microfoam cappuccino, they’re disappointed, and it’s not what they pictured.

The old-school coffee ideology is respected in its own right. But in this article, we’re talking about third wave coffee, to which flat microfoam is central.

What is microfoam?

Microfoam is a method of steaming milk where you inject tons of tiny bubbles into the milk, creating a textured milk. The bubbles run all throughout the milk, instead of the foam and the milk being separate from one another. Rather than having a thick foamy milk that plops right on top of your espresso, you get a continuous flow. This opens the door to latte art, and mastering microfoam lets baristas create rosettas, tulips, and even swans!

In addition, microfoam isn’t hot; it’s warm. Dairy milk has natural sugars (lactose) which complement the sweetness of espresso. Heating up your milk too much can burn and effectively destroy those natural sugars. You should aim for 120-140 degrees F. To get that optimal warm temperature, place your palm on the side of the metal pitcher while steaming. As soon as you feel warmth, stop steaming immediately. You can use a thermometer, but your hand is more intuitive.

Milk thermometer

How to make microfoam for beginners

To make proper microfoam, you’ll need a high-quality espresso machine with a precision steam wand. Pour your milk into a metal steaming pitcher until it’s about a centimetre below the spout. Place the pitcher at an angle, leaning down slightly to your right. Before you start steaming, lift the milk pitcher up to the steam wand. The steam wand should be slightly below the surface of the milk, about a centimetre.

Turn your steam wand on. If you’re at the correct angle, you should create a vortex effect. If you don’t see this affect, don’t panic. Gently move the pitcher side to side (not up and down), making sure the steam wand is just below the surface. Keep steaming until it starts to feel warm, not hot. Immediately switch the steam wand off.

steaming milk

The sound (or lack thereof) is everything. If the steam wand is too close to the surface, you’ll get a high-pitched screeching sound. If it’s too submerged, you’ll get a loud, low rumbling sound. If it’s in the right spot, it’ll make practically no sound at all.

It’s normal to get a few big bubbles. Let your milk sit for a few seconds and tap out the big bubbles on a hard surface before pouring.

How to make latte art with microfoam

This is probably the hardest part. Latte art takes practise. If all you can manage is a heart, you should call that a win!

Try to get better at microfoam before attempting latte art. You can’t make latte art if your microfoam is thick and foamy. It has to be thin and glossy, similar to wet paint in texture and viscosity.

Pour your microfoam directly over the espresso in a circular motion. Once your cup is about ⅔ full, pause your pour. This is when you’ll start your latte art.

Get the spout of the pitcher closer to your latte, and pour while rapidly swiveling the pitcher left and right, about half a centimeter apart.

Fratello Coffee Latte Art

Pro tip:

Pour a bit of microfoam in the espresso, stir it with a spoon, and then pour the rest of the milk. This helps prevent a bitter taste upon the first sip. The crema layer from the espresso is quite bitter, and it rises to the top when you do latte art. Integrating it early on disperses that bitter top layer.

Practising microfoam

Instead of wasting milk to practise your microfoam, practise with a pitcher of water with a drop of dish soap. When steamed, it creates a similar texture. It helps you gauge the correct position of the pitcher and the steam wand. It also helps you practise co-ordinating when to turn off the steam wand, which can be tricky at first.

pouring microfoam milk

Making microfoam with non dairy milk

Non-dairy milk doesn’t perform as well as dairy milk when steamed, but there are ways to improve the texture. Steam your non-dairy milk more vigorously than you would with regular milk. Because they have less fat content and are more watery, they heat up quicker, meaning you have to work quicker. After steaming, let it sit for a while to let bigger bubbles come to the surface. Then, tap the pitcher firmly on a hard surface to let the bubbles out and swirl vigorously to integrate.

Don’t cry over spilt milk

Creating that perfect microfoam can be frustrating at first. There are several factors that you have to be aware of, all at the same time. This includes the angle of the milk pitcher, proper submersion of the wand, temperature, and wand shut-off. It doesn’t help that a big, roaring espresso machine can be a little daunting to a newbie barista. But if you don’t get it perfect at first, the most important thing is that you try. Customers can taste care in a cup.

Looking to open a coffee shop, or just need a tune-up for your team of baristas? Get in touch with us about our cafe consultations, and drop us a line at .




How to Pull a Perfect Shot of Espresso

There’s nothing worse than going to a renowned coffee shop only to receive an espresso drink that’s bitter and undrinkable. Poorly made espresso-based drinks are more common than you might think. Even the best beans, espresso machine, and grinder can’t guarantee a good shot of espresso.

Slayer Espresso

A big challenge for cafe managers and owners is getting their large team of baristas to make good-tasting espresso. A lot of newbie baristas don’t know what to look for when dialing in espresso and lack the confidence to calibrate it.  This is why we offer complimentary ongoing training and consultation for our wholesales clients.

By putting certain practises in place, you can show your whole team how to pull a perfect shot of espresso. First, we’ll show you how to lead an espresso tasting session with a team of baristas. Then, we’ll show you how to ensure the espresso is always running well.

The building blocks of good espresso

It may sound obvious, but you need to start with great coffee and great equipment to make great espresso. Make sure you have all of these in place first before you troubleshoot your espresso.

Make sure to source roasted beans from a high-quality, specialty coffee roaster. They should have an emphasis on ethical sourcing, meticulous roasting, and freshness.

A high-quality espresso machine with enough pressure and stamina is crucial for great espresso. We recommend the Slayer espresso machine, which was produced by the fine folks here at Fratello!

A good espresso grinder allows you to micro-adjust the grind setting. It should have a timed doser to provide consistency. We recommend Mahlkonig espresso grinders. 

If you have all of that already, let’s get into it!

coffee grinder

Leading an espresso tasting with your team

It’s always a good idea to do an espresso tasting session with your team. This allows you to answer any questions and try different espresso shots side-by-side for comparison. When guiding your team through a tasting, here are some common things to look for.

While not all coffees have a sweet profile, you should aim for a sweet shot. Sweetness is detected on the tip of the tongue. Unlike an unpleasant sour flavour, you’re looking for a sweetness akin to fruit or sugar.

A good shot of espresso should never taste unpleasantly bitter or sour. You can assess this more broadly when you try the espresso by asking yourself, “Is this pleasant?” “Is this acceptable to serve?”

Bitter and sour notes can be part of the inherent flavour profile of the coffee, like rich cocoa and lemon. Don’t get confused by desirable flavour attributes. 

Get your team familiar with the flavour wheel. It’s not cheating to fill your head with all the possibilities of what coffee can taste like. It helps your team by giving them a vocabulary to describe coffee.

TIP: It’s easier for newbie baristas to taste coffee that’s cooled down and/or diluted with a bit of water.

cappuccino

Creating an espresso calibration system

After you’ve done your initial group tasting session with your team, it’s time to create a calibration system.

The best way to calibrate espresso is by tasting it and adjusting it as needed. However, most newbie baristas won’t have the skills or the confidence to do this. This method also takes more time, and when you’re trying to move a lineup, it isn’t practical. A calibration system is easy-to-follow, keeps your coffee tasting great at all times, and doesn’t disrupt your flow.

Not all coffee is the same, but as a general rule of thumb, there’s a certain espresso recipe to follow. When it comes to brewing parameters for espresso, you want to start with a dry weight of 18 grams, a wet weight of 36 grams (ie. actual brewed espresso), and a brew time of 28-30 seconds. If you brew your espresso and it doesn’t fit within these confines, you can tweak the dose and the grind setting of the coffee.

perfect espresso

How to pull a perfect shot of espresso, step-by-step:

  1. Pop the basket out of the portafilter, and zero it out on a digital scale. Grind your beans from your timed espresso grinder, and weigh it. If it weighs below 18 grams, increase your dose by a few milliseconds. If it weighs above 18 grams, decrease your dose. Don’t worry if you’re off by 0.5 grams.
  2. Once you have the right weight, evenly tamp your espresso with 30 lbs of pressure.
  3. Have a timer ready to countdown from 30 seconds. Grab a clean shot glass or mini metal pitcher, place it on the scale, and zero it out.
  4. Place the scale and the glass under the group head, and begin brewing your espresso. Immediately start your 30-second timer. 
  5. At the 30-second mark, stop the shot and read the wet weight on the scale. If the wet weight isn’t 36 grams, make some changes and start over. If the wet weight is below 36 grams, make your grind coarser. If it’s above 36 grams, make your grind finer.

Make sure to post the espresso parameters (ie. dry weight, wet weight, brew time) where staff can see it. Have your team calibrate the espresso several times a day: once first thing in the morning, at mid-morning, and in the afternoon. For accountability, you can set up a checklist on a marker board, and have staff initial their calibrations.

Other factors affecting espresso flavour

Getting the right dose and weight is important when making good espresso, but it’s not the only thing to be aware of. Other things greatly affect the flavour of espresso. Here are some common factors:

Make sure your team is tamping properly. An uneven tamp or a cracked puck can result in uneven extraction, and thus, a sour, undrinkable espresso. Check out this video to make sure your team isn’t committing any tamping faux-pas!

 

The temperature and humidity in your cafe can instantly change how your espresso pours. If the weather suddenly changes from rainy and cold to sunny and warm, recalibrate your espresso.

A dirty espresso machine can make your coffee taste off if you’re doing everything else right. Make sure your team is cleaning the espresso machine and portafilters every night with Cafiza. Additionally, make sure your team is wiping the portafilter baskets with a dry rag between espressos. Have them purge the group heads between pours, too.

Fratello Coffee

Give it your best shot

Espresso can be intimidating for new baristas who lack skills and confidence. You can’t expect them to know everything right off the bat. The more effort you put into standards and procedures, the more likely it is that your team will get on board.

It doesn’t take long to gain a reputation as a no-fail, sure-shot espresso bar. Before long, your customers will notice, and they’ll be lining up for more. So do a little planning, schedule that espresso tasting with your team, and knock it out of the park!

We know that espresso can be a complicated beast. With decades of experience in the specialty coffee world, we have all the tools to make your cafe a success. Book a consultation call with us by emailing us at . We’re here to help!





Opening a new cafe in Calgary or Edmonton? Need help or cafe consultation?

We are eager to work with people that share our dedication to coffee.  We want to share our passion with you and help you learn to present coffee at its finest in your business.

Latte art training

Fratello has been roasting coffee for over 25 years, but we are more than just a coffee roaster. Our consultants are experienced professionals that will guide you in all aspects of your business. From initial consultations around opening a new location to getting into the details of selecting products and equipment for your business, you have access to our team of coffee professionals through every stage of your investigative/planning stages......and this is all included when you choose to work with us!

One of our consultants will meet with you to discuss all aspects of your coffee program. We will work with you to recommend the right coffee, the right equipment and the right training. From sourcing great coffee to understanding how to store it best, to roasting fresh on demand and showing you how to prepare it right, we are here for you at every step.

espresso grinder

Our professional consultants draw from backgrounds mixing business experience and an intense passion for coffee. During the consulting process, we get to know your prospective or existing business, what customers you are looking to attract and how you want to prepare the coffee. We will show you the equipment options and advise you on what will be best for your space and expected volume.

Fratello has/does compete locally and nationally at coffee competitions and uses this experience in training our accounts on barista skills. For local accounts we will work with you both at our training area at Fratello and in your business in all aspects of beverage preparation.

We offer on-going training and support including areas such as latte art and alternative ways to prepare coffee by the cup in your café or restaurant. This training is included as part of your relationship with Fratello.

We are much more than just a coffee roaster.  We are a trusted team of coffee professionals that are here to share our extensive experience with you.

Hario V60 pour over Coffee, a brewing guide

The Hario V60 O2 pour over dripper is our preferred method of brewing coffee at Fratello's Analog Cafe.

The manual brewing process allows our barista to have complete control over the brew speed and ensure proper ground saturation. The slower extraction time lends to a much sweeter and complex flavour in the cup than a traditional brewer.

It is very easy to use, so we put together this brewing guide to show you how you can use this in your cafe, home or work place. They are also VERY affordable.  You can find them on our store HERE.

Watch this short video that takes you through the steps to do this yourself.

Slayer Espresso & Fratello Coffee on Bizarre Foods

Check out the latest episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. He looks at the Seattle coffee scene and interviews my brother Jason and myself at Slayer's studio as well as tastes a bunch of Fratello Coffees. It was a great time teaching him what Slayer is all about.

Growing, Harvesting & Wet-Milling coffee - Training Video #1

If you frequent high end cafes, you will most likely come across or hear the term "Micro-Mill" used more and more often.   A micro-mill is a washing station called a "Beneficio" which is located on a farm.    Farms which have their own beneficio's are able to have complete control over their quality.  They are able to grow and harvest their coffee properly, wash & de-pulp their coffee, followed by drying their coffee before bringing it to the dry-mill which we discussed in our last blog post.

Through working with a properly run wet-mill a roaster is able to be more selective in the coffee we choose.  Choosing a single varietal coffee, a specific lot/area of the farm and if we prefer to have our coffee processed a certain way in order to give it a unique flavor is all possible through the micro-mill.

But, there are years worth of work before coffee is ever harvested.  Watch this new training video which walks you through the steps, and years of work required before coffee every gets tasted.

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After the Wet-mill: Drying & Dry-milling coffee - Training video #2

Coffee is one of the most complicated products in the world when it comes to consistently harvesting, processing, roasting and especially brewing.

More and more you will hear about how important it is to properly harvest coffee.  A Micro-mill is a fairly new term, which is a description for a small mill, located on the farm, which de-pulps the coffee cherries and were coffee is typically dried in the sun.

Not very often do you hear about the steps that happen after this.  These steps are briefly outlined in this video prepared by us.   It was made to help you understand that all coffee doesn't stop its journey at the farm....in fact, it still has a lot of processing to go through before reaching the roastery.

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Panama Boquete - The Geisha Varietal

…….After cupping these coffees, I was blown away at the cupping profile.  Flavors of Juicy Fruit candy, creamy strawberry, tangerine acidity, intensely sweet and a balanced lingering acidity.  I brewed a Chemex of this in Calgary and found myself gulping it back like I was in a beer drinking competition back in College.  I quickly realized that I had NO CHOICE but to buy some.  Our 200 lb lot of Panama Mama Cata Full Natural Geisha will be available July 2011……Now let me start at the beginning…..

Panama Boquete Geisha Finca Mama Cata

For many years the most expensive prices paid for coffee has been a rare coffee found in Panama.  The record for this Panamanian coffee was set in 2007 when an auction fetched over $150 USD / lb (Green) for coffee grown at Esmeralda Estate using the Geisha Varietal.    Since this time, it is not rare for people to pay 10-20 times the regular asking price for this rare coffee.  In a café setting it is no different.   To get a taste of this coffee, you should expect to pay $10-12 per cup.  Is it worth it?  I think so.

Panama Boquete Geisha Finca Mama Cata Coffee Cherry

So what is with this coffee and what makes it so unique?  I wanted to know as well, so the purpose of going to Panama was to begin to learn about this varietal and appreciate what it brings to the cupping tables. (more…)